By Peg Lopata, Contributing Writer
Ipswich – Valerie Paavonpera, 64, is a brave and adaptable woman. Not many would leave their dream job, their country, or feel at home practically anywhere on earth. For 40 years, Paavonpera has lived abroad, including two decades in Australia. For the past 10 years, she’s lived in various locales throughout New England, including her hometown of Ipswich, MA. This was not in her plans, but a poem she wrote happily landed her here. Her current address is Charlestown, South Carolina where the warmer climate should make life a bit easier for her and her family.
Poetess and businesswoman? Yes, that’s Paavonpera. But running her own business wasn’t in the plans, either. Her company, VPR Media and Marketing, was a spontaneous creation.
“I left my dream job in Sydney, Australia as deputy head of publicity for a national public broadcaster because Pekka, my husband, was offered a job in North Queensland, Australia. I was intent to take a bit of time off, to comfortably settle into new surrounds. Then, one day I was told the area’s city council was planning a major international celebratory event. It sounded awesome. I landed the job for communications, marketing, planning, and executing the event. I decided that very week that I would create my own business,” explained Paavonpera.
That was 25 years ago. Her company, albeit somewhat modified, is still in business today. In 2001, when Paavonpera and Pekka, a native of Finland, left Australia for the U.S., they decided to become business partners. Their clients, from governments and nonprofits, to private industry are from all over the world, including such places as Iceland, Corfu, and the United Arab Emirates.
Said Paavonpera, “I do what I do best – communicating proficiently in writing and in voice. I listen attentively to my clients and advise accordingly.”
This business is well-suited for a woman who loves people, traveling, and collaborating with different cultures.
Worldly traveler, business owner, poetess; enjoying friends and family—she has two grown children, a daughter, Irjaliina and a son, Jay—it all made for a good life. Then two curve balls of massive proportions were thrown her way. In August 2019, Pekka suffered a spinal cord injury and became a paraplegic. Then came the coronavirus pandemic. What lay ahead was not only daunting, it was frightening. How would they manage Pekka’s care? Could they keep from catching the virus? Where would Paavonpera find respite from all the demands?
Luckily, awhile back she had written a poem about the novelist John Updike. Another poet heard her poem at a gathering in Vermont where she was living at the time. Being a friend of David Updike, one of John Updike’s sons, the fellow poet shared Paavonpera’s poem with him. David reconnected with Paavonpera—they knew each other having both lived in Ipswich as children—- about the poem, and learned she was looking for a house to rent. He had just the place: John Updike’s, his father’s home in Ipswich. They say you can’t go home again, but Paavonpera did exactly that during a time in her life where this was just the right place to be.
Paavonpera’s life is in a new phase that she could never have anticipated—no one plans for this. A tragic loss of mobility in one’s husband? A pandemic? Moving about 1000 miles? But the qualities she admires in others: being self-driven, positive, adventurous, generous with time and goodwill, she has in abundance in herself. Even in the midst of these difficult times, she offers her communications expertise pro bono to two nonprofits. Her guiding philosophy now? She said, “As much as possible, I aspire to be fully present, grateful, and kind.”